Should Michèle Flournoy Be Secretary of Defense?

by | Nov 24, 2020


President-elect Joe Biden faces monumental challenges, left to him by an exceptionally dysfunctional administration now heading for the exits—despite temper tantrums en route. Among those challenges, one hardly mentioned during the campaign is stemming the runaway appetite in the Pentagon, the defense industry, and Congress for never-ending increases in the military budget.

The president-elect’s apparent pick for secretary of defense, Michèle Flournoy, would not squelch that appetite. Her stated prescriptions for defense are to bring in people ill-suited to curb Pentagon spending, kill off badly needed oversight, and worsen long-standing pathologies that make our armed forces smaller, older, and weaker.

Keep in mind Flournoy‘s extensive defense industry ties. In 2002 she went from positions in the Pentagon and the National Defense University to the mainstream but hawkish Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is largely funded by industry and Pentagon contributions. Five years later, she co-founded the second-most heavily contractor-funded think tank in Washington, the highly influential Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

That became a stepping stone to her role as under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration. From there she rotated­­ to the Boston Consulting Group, after which the firm’s military contracts expanded from $1.6 million to $32 million in three years. She also joined the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm laden with defense contracts. In 2017 she co-founded WestExec Advisors, helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies.

Though WestExec Advisors does not reveal its clients, Flournoy has stated, “Building bridges between Silicon Valley and the US government is really, really important,” even a “labor of love.” WestExec is also careful not to designate Flournoy as a lobbyist, which could run afoul of Biden’s likely prohibitions against appointing “lobbyists” to senior positions. But a WestExec source did tell an interviewer, “We’ll tell you who to go talk to” and what to tell them. This simply circumvents the legalities; it is lobbying by remote control.

In a CNAS article this July, Flournoy laid out a plan embraced by candidate Biden and other Democrats, “Sharpening the US Military’s Edge: Critical Steps for the Next Administration.” The piece reveals Flournoy’s corporate outlook and outlines how the next secretary of defense should manage the Pentagon.

The nature of any Pentagon administration stems from the quality of the people selected to run it. Addressing this central question, Flournoy states:

It will be imperative for the next secretary to appoint a team of senior officials who meet the following criteria: deep expertise and competence in their areas of responsibility; proven leadership in empowering teams, listening to diverse views, making tough decisions, and delivering results; mission-driven and able to work well in a team of strong peers … and diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that will ultimately contribute to better decision making and organizational performance.

Nowhere does she list ethics, character, objectivity, or independence from contractor, service, or political biases, all qualities stunningly missing from Trump’s Pentagon as well as earlier ones.

Significantly, Flournoy expands: “DoD leaders need to find ways to deepen their dialogues with current and potential partners in industry, both companies that are part of the traditional defense industrial base and non-traditional partners, for instance commercial technology companies in places such as Silicon Valley, Austin, and Boston.” Stated plainly, her Pentagon would have an open-door policy for contractor influence, especially for the sector she called her “labor of love.”

Further on, she elaborates:

In order to attract the best of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs across the country, however, the department must also generate a clear demand signal and create more substantial recurring revenue opportunities for these companies. One approach is to announce the department’s big bets and put substantial funding behind each one, teeing up a series of opportunities for companies to compete for development, prototype, and ultimately production contracts.

Translating this into plain English, she favors getting the best out of the defense tech industry by increasing the money flow.

Read the rest here.